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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Wither the 'democratization strategy'? 


Several of my absolute favorite terrorism analysts, Andy McCarthy, John Podhoretz, Cliff May, and Michael Ledeen, spent the afternoon of Bastille Day duking it out at The Corner over the "democratization strategy." Let's examine the back-and-forth, and then reprise a topic I have been writing about for more than a year: the "realist" case for promoting democracy in the Muslim world.

McCarthy's opening salvo captures, I think, the objections of hawks (and, I should add, the paternalistic left) to the promotion of democracy as a strategy in the war on terror:

We've been told for some time now — against common sense and the weight of our own national experience — that the way to defeat international jihadism is to spread democracy.

So now the Lebanese democracy can't control Hezbollah (which has been freely elected and controls about a fifth of its legislature), while the Palestinian Authority IS Hamas (the Palestinian people having democratically put them in power).

How much do we figure that Israel is hoping democracy breaks out in Egypt, with the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad waiting in the wings? All it needs right about now is yet another democratic neighbor.

Democracy has many enduring benefits, but it doesn't stop terrorists from operating — and in many ways, it makes life easier for them. When are we going to stop talking about it as a national security cure-all?

We have to kill al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and the rest. This is harder work than the administration's rhetoric is preparing the nation for. We are not going to democratize these savages into submission.

I agree with every word in McCarthy's post (McCarthy elaborates here), yet remain an ardent supporter of the Bush administration's view that spreading democracy is an essential feature of the war on radical Islam. More on that below. Now for Cliff May, who closes in on my "realist" case:
Finally, while freedom and democracy are not the antidote for terrorism, they are part of the long-term treatment. Right now, if you live in the Arab Middle East you have a choice only between dead-end dictatorship and Militant Islamism. There is no third option—indeed, the dead-end dictators collude with the Militant Islamists against any sprouting of liberal democracy.

Can we agree on this: What we should promote in the Middle East is not democracy in the sense of getting folks to cast ballots. What we should promote is freedom of expression and association, the rule of law, and other hallmarks of civil society. To hold elections before you have civil society is to start cooking before you have either meat or potatoes.

Promoting freedom is not, at this moment, as important as killing our enemies. But if we had done it earlier, we might not have so many enemies. And it’s something we should be able to manage in our spare time with personnel who aren’t very adept with firearms.

Michael Ledeen weighs in with the argument popularized by Natan Sharansky, that tyranny is at the root of the terror in the world, that all peoples have the capacity to deal with freedom, and that we suffer the greatest blowback when we fail to recognize their aspirations:
Andy, the claim is not that democracy is perfect; it's that it's the least bad of the available systems. Never mind electing Hamas, the Germans loved Hitler, the Italians adored Mussolini, and at that time the Germans and Italians were rightly admired as cultured, sophisticated, artistic, philosophical...and advanced. So yes, democracy fails. And it often fails in favor of tyranny. The Greeks and Romans used to talk about cycles of politics, generally running from tyranny to autocracy to democracy to mobocracy to tyranny and round and round.

We know this. We accept this. As we accept that if some of the peoples of the Middle East were free to choose their leaders, they might well choose an Osama of their own.

But freedom is still the best bet. You want to beat Iran? Get freedom for the Iranians, they made a terrible mistake in 1979 and supported revolution by ayatollah Khomeini, and they voted for him and for the Islamic Republic. Now they know better, and if they get a chance they will not vote in another tyranny. The Syrians never had a choice, but there is every reason to believe they would go for democracy too.

And don't you agree that the Lebanese failure is not a failure of democracy but a failure of the West to properly support Lebanese democracy? For democracy to work you need strong institutions, not just elections, and we needed to insist that the Syrians get out and stay out, as we need to insist right now that Hizbollah be expelled en toto from Lebanon, and demilitarized in Syria as well.Support for strong democratic states requires seriousness.

It's wrong to condemn freedom just by saying that some people will do the wrong thing with it. We knew that, it happens everywhere. On balance, if the Middle East were entirely free (I know it's a wacko hypothesis, but still...) it would be a much better place, because the contagion of democracy from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Kuwait (the bare minimum) would be enormous, and the tyrants would have tough going.

So take it easy on the poor democrats, please.

And, finally, McCarthy's counterstroke, which I agree with on its face:
Michael, I am not condemning democracy. I love democracy. I wish the world was democratic. I am simply saying it is not a viable defense against terrorism.

You say, "Support for strong democratic states requires seriousness." I quite agree. Seriousness means we stop mincing words and deal with reality. Here is reality: the lack of democracy is not the root cause of Islamic terrorism. The root cause of Islamic terrorism is an interpretation of Islamic doctrine. There are many verses of the Koran and the Hadiths that tend support this interpretation. It has not been created out of whole cloth, and if Thomas Jefferson himself resurrected tomorrow, he could not make these scriptures disappear.

Does that mean everyone who follows Islam will become a terrorist? No. But some always will, whether democracy dominates the world or not. The people who subscribe to this fascistic view of Islam have to be killed or captured; they are not going to be evolved or democratized into ceasing to threaten us.

I support democracy and freedom. I believe it should be our national policy to support those things for a host of very good reasons. None of those reasons, though, is that it is insurance against jihadism.

Democracy promotion as a goal of national policy is fine and admirable. On the other hand, selling democratization as a complete, self-contained response to terrorism is nothing beyond a more appealing manifestation of the regnant political correctness that induces us to call this enterprise the "war on terror" lest we offend anyone by mentioning who the enemy is. Wouldn't it be wonderful to believe that the problem wasn't a religious doctrine but rather the denial of a great aspiration — freedom — that we just happen to be in a noble position to provide?

But it's a fiction. The terrorists don't want to kill us because they have been deprived of freedom. They want to kill us because they believe their religion tells them that is what they are required to do. It is why they continue to try to kill us even when they live in very comfortable democratic circumstances. Freedom is not a cure for what ails them.

All true. So why should "democratization" of the Arab Muslim world be part of America's strategy for dealing with Islamic jihad? Because there needs to be an alternative to jihadism that can capture the imagination of the Arab on the street. Secular Arab nationalism and communism, which were that alternative in years past, are spent forces in the world. Popular sovereignty is all that remains.

None of this means that the public arguments of the Bush administration -- which are the same arguments that Andy McCarthy ably attacks -- are the best reasons for the democratization strategy. They are romantic and moral, but McCarthy is correct that they are not persuasive. This post reviews the Bush administration's justification for the democratization strategy, the reasons why the Bush arguments do not fly, and, finally, the better "realist" case for integrating democratization into our strategy for winning the war.

"Democracies are peaceful countries." So said George W. Bush last year in the aftermath of the election to ratify Iraq's new constitution. This simple idea, propounded most famously by Natan Sharansky in his influential book The Case For Democracy: The Power Of Freedon to Overcome Tyranny And Terror, is a cornerstone of America's strategy in its war against Islamic jihad. The President expressed it this way more than two years ago in his speech before the National Endowment for Democracy:
Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo.

Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace.

Condoleezza Rice reiterated this argument in Cairo in June 2005:
For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East — and we achieved neither.

Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.

Rice made the point again at Princeton on September 30, 2005, and has undoubtedly done so on many other occasions.
People still differ about what the September 11th calls us to do. And in a democratic society, that debate is healthy and just and right. If you focus only on the attacks themselves and believe they were caused by 19 hijackers, supported by a network called al-Qaida, and operating from a failed state -- Afghanistan -- then our response can be limited. The course of action presumes that we are still living in an ordinary time.

But if you believe, as I do and as President Bush does, that the root cause of September 11th was the violent expression of a global extremist ideology, an ideology rooted in the oppression and despair of the modern Middle East, then we must speak to remove the source of this terror by transforming that troubled region. If you believe as we do, then it cannot be denied that we are standing at an extraordinary moment in history.

Some would argue that this broad approach to the problem is making the world less stable by rocking the boat and wrecking the status quo. But this presumes the existence of a stable status quo that does not threaten global security. This is not the case. A regional order that produced an ideology of hatred so savage as the one we now confront is not serving any civilized interest.

For 60 years, we often thought that we could achieve stability without liberty in the Middle East. And ultimately, we got neither. Now, we must recognize, as we do in every other region of the world, that liberty and democracy are the only guarantees of true stability and lasting security.

There are those who worry that greater freedom of choice in the Middle East will only liberate and empower extremism. In fact, the opposite is true: A political culture of transparency and openness is not one in which extremist beliefs can ultimately thrive. Extremism is most dangerous when it lurks in the dark and hides underground. When there is no political space for individuals to advance their interests and redress their grievances, then they retreat into the shadows to grow ever more radical and divorced from reality. We saw the result of that on September 11th and now we must work to advance democratic reform throughout the greater Middle East.

The Bush administration believes that democracy is important because it eliminates the circumstances under which terrorism prospers.


As Andy McCarthy -- and many others -- point out, there are several problems with this justification for democratization as a short-term solution to Islamic terrorism.

First, whether or not established democracies extinguish terrorism by dint of their political "transparency" and accountability, the journey to democracy is the work of a generation. During that transition, jihadis, fascists, dispossessed ethnic groups and foreign meddlers may increase terrorism to increase their leverage or to strangle the young democratic state in its crib -- nothing bolsters fascism more readily than a security problem. Democracy in Iraq has not eliminated the terrorism there, and it will not any time soon. This is because as democracy advances its opponents are ever more motivated to fight to defeat it.

Second, it may be that even mature democracies are particularly susceptible to coercion by terrorism. Democracies rely on due process of law, which is often at odds with effective anti-terror tactics (a controversial point to be sure, but one that I believe to be true). Also, democracies are more vulnerable to the short term swings in public opinion that terrorism is designed to provoke.

Third, it may be that the greater susceptibility of democracies to terrorism means that, as a matter of demonstrable fact, terrorism is no less likely to flourish in democracies than autocracies. The Philippines, for example, is as democratic as any Arab country is likely to be in my lifetimem, yet it still suffers from Islamic terrorism. The same can be said for Indonesia.

Fourth, it may simply not be true. Last fall, F. Gregory Gause III argued in Foreign Affairs that "[a]s democracy grows in the Arab world ... the region will stop generating anti-American terrorism." It won't, he argues, because "the data available do not show a strong relationship between democracy and an absence of or reduction in terrorism. Terrorism appears to stem from factors much more specific than regime type." This strikes me as manifestly true.

Arguments like Cause's and Robert Pape's are persuasive that democratization of the Arab world will not, in and of itself, eliminate the conditions that inspire Islamic terrorism.

Fifth, the Bush initiative to democratize the Arab world does not come without costs. As Gause points out:
[E]ven if democracy were achieved in the Middle East, what kind of governments would it produce? Would they cooperate with the United States on important policy objectives besides curbing terrorism, such as advancing the Arab-Israeli peace process, maintaining security in the Persian Gulf, and ensuring steady supplies of oil? No one can predict the course a new democracy will take, but based on public opinion surveys and recent elections in the Arab world, the advent of democracy there seems likely to produce new Islamist governments that would be much less willing to cooperate with the United States than are the current authoritarian rulers.

To be sure, the Bush administration seems cognizant of this argument insofar as it tirelessly expresses a willingness to sacrifice "stability" in order to advance democracy. However, recognition that the old trade-offs no longer apply does not diminish Gause's main point, which is that the democratization strategy is not without significant risks. In particular, new Arab "democrats" may well see votes in the denunciation of the United States and the bashing of Israel, or even the waging of war against it.

So, if the democratization project holds out little demonstrable chance of shrinking the number of extremists and if it carries the great risk of propelling anti-American regimes into office, should the next administration abandon Bush's initiatives and return to a willingness to exchange support for autocracies for "stability" and pro-American governments? My answer is no.

The true benefit of democratization has very little to do with Natan Sharansky's romantic view that a genuine franchise and the civil rights necessary to sustain it will somehow destroy jihadi terrorism by removing the discontent that feeds its roots. No, the best and perhaps only argument for democratization is that it will increase the number of active enemies of the jihadis within the Muslim world, whether or not those enemies of the Islamists are themselves supporters of the United States or quite opposed to us. It will be enough for us to create more enemies of al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah. We need to create more enemies of Islamist terrorists because we cannot beat al Qaeda and Hez and their ilk on our own.

Islamist terrorists, we believe, enjoy the active support of a very small proportion of the Muslim world. Unfortunately, the Muslim world is so large that small proportion includes a lot of people. If only 1% of Muslims are inclined to support al Qaeda personally, that still gives them a base of more than 10,000,000 people to recruit from. Is there any possibility that democracy will satisfy the 1% most radical Muslims? There is none.

Al Qaeda and its ideological cognates are the product of more than 70 years of ideological development. That ideology grows in fertile soil for many reasons rooted in ancient Arab and Muslim economic and political failures. The ideology of jihadism also succeeds because it competes against, er, nothing. There is no meaningful political ideology in the Arab world -- which sustains its rulers in the barren soil of monarchy or rank authoritarianism -- to compete with radical Islam.

Just as communism's intellectual roots stretched back decades before the establishment of the first communist state, jihadi ideology is a coherent and highly developed political philosophy with origins long ante-dating the state of Israel, Western dependance on Middle Eastern oil, the presence of American soldiers in the region, or the Taliban government of Afghanistan. As was the case with communism, it will take a long time to discredit and destroy this ideology. While widespread political reform would be a wonderful thing, it will have very little impact on al Qaeda or Hezbollah.

How, then, do we destroy both al Qaeda and the jihadi ideology? The answer is that "we" -- meaning the West -- cannot. Just as the United States did not destroy communism, only Muslims, and particularly Arab Muslims, can destroy the jihad. They will do so only when it is worth their great personal sacrifice to ruthlessly pursue the people in their own world who promote this ideology.

As with the decades-long war on communism, the war on Islamic jihad requires a strategy that both contains the advance of the jihad as much as practical and motivates its most direct victims -- in this case Muslims -- to destroy it from within (as the Russians and the Chinese have both, in quite different fashion, destroyed communism). Containment, in this case, requires passive strategies (such as homeland security) and the active participation of the existing governments of the Islamic world. The demands of containment require us to coerce and cajole fundamentally hideous governments, including especially Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (as well as other tactics, such as our flowering alliance with India and our careful diplomacy in Central Asia) have put us in a position to do that.

Unfortunately, steps we take to coerce the autocracies of the Muslim world also make us less popular among the Muslim masses. This is not different from the Cold War, in which active American efforts to contain communism -- the Cuban embargo, the military defense of South Korea and Vietnam, support for the insurgents in Angola, support for Taiwan, and support for Israel in 1967 and 1973 -- enraged the otherwise oppressed populations of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and so forth.

Also unfortunately, today's Muslim regimes cannot win this war in the long term. Most of them are absurd governments of kings and princes or brutal generals whose idea of succession planning is primogeniture. (Kings?!? How often do we Americans, who institutionalized lèse-majesté, consider how idiotic a system monarchy really is?) These kings, princes, sheikhs and generals-for-life are clowns, and anybody who views any of them -- even the "moderate" ones -- as better than contemptible is seriously deranged. History is against them, and every thoughtful person in the world knows it. The question is, what will replace them? The jihadis are fighting to install a Caliphate and lower a dark curtain over a fifth of the world. The United States and its courageous allies are fighting to create room for modern democratic governments based on popular sovereignty.

Since the region's clown governments lack credibility and citizens who are willing to take great personal risks to defend them, Islamist terrorists are able to create spaces in those countries in which to operate (see, e.g., southern Lebanon, southern Saudi Arabia, parts of Afghanistan, and Pakistan's "tribal regions"). Where Islamist organizations flourish, they are able to cajole and coerce the local population -- the Average Abdul -- into cooperating, or at least turning a blind eye. In al Qaeda's doctrine, this creates a local base from which it can "vex and exhaust" the clownish "apostate" regime. In Hezbollah's, it is a platform from which it can kill Jews.

The counterinsurency -- whether Western, Israeli, or local Arab regime -- needs for Average Abdul to stop cooperating with al Qaeda and Hezbollah and to start turning in the jihadis in the back of the mosque. Unfortunately, he won't turn in the jihadis because he is more afraid of them than the local regime and he will not bear any risk to defend the clowns. The jihadis will kill him and his family for blowing the whistle, but the clown regime will neither punish him for keeping silent or induce him to fight the jihadis out of patriotism. Average Abdul, simply put, is unwilling to risk his life for the clown regime even for money, because it has not earned his devotion.

Average Abdul will, however, risk his life for an idea, just as al Qaeda's jihadis or Hezbollah's soldiers do. Once, that idea was pan-Arabism, or Communism. Today, both are discredited. "Moderate Islam," whatever that means in a dusty town in Syria, Jordan or Egypt, obviously does not have the fire to motivate Abdul to risk his life to fight the Islamists. The only idea with the juice to do the job is popular sovereignty. Democracy. This is the heart of the realist case for the Bush administration's "democratization strategy."

The jihadis understand this, and fight against democracy in the Arab world with everything they've got.

In fighting against democracy in the Arab world, the jihadis polarize Arabs. While many decry this polarization as "instability," by its nature polarization creates more enemies of the jihad. Some of these new enemies of jihad will be disgusted with al Qaeda's mass casualty attacks, or blame Hezbollah for the war that follows. Others will be inspired by their last, best chance at representative government. Either way, enemies of the jihad pick up a weapon, walk a post and -- most importantly -- drop a dime on their enemy, even if they hate Israelis and don't much like Americans. Wherever a reasonably representative government emerges, Average Abdul will start to turn in the jihadis in the back of the mosque, now for his own reasons.

Of course, the clown regimes will also try to subvert the democracy movement, which is ultimately as great a threat to their longevity as al Qaeda or Hezbollah. That is why they are at least tacitly supporting the resistance in Iraq and fighting political reforms in their own countries tooth and nail, hammer and tongs.

In Iraq, al Qaeda is so concerned that democracy might take root that it has drawn a line in the sand. Having fled Afghanistan and taunted the West with bloody but fundamentally low-impact attacks from London to Bali to Mumbai, al Qaeda has finally put its credibility on the line in Iraq. It is losing there, and its credibility is suffering enormously.

This, then, is the true purpose and promise of the Bush Administration's "democratization" strategy, even if Bush himself does not express it this way or even understand it in these terms.

Muslims need serious motivation to discredit and destroy the jihad because the jihadis are extremely dangerous and ruthless people. They have demonstrated their capacity for breathtaking brutality not just on September 11 and in the Sunni Triangle, but across the world over more than twenty years. None of Western arm-twisting of Israel, the retreat of the United States from the region or promises of Western aid or free trade will provide that necessary serious motivation. The only way to inspire Muslims to fight the jihad is to make it possible for the majority to embrace a competing ideology that can fill the empty void of their civil society and give them something in defense of which they are willing to risk war with the jihadis. The idea of popular sovereignty -- the philosophy of John Locke, if you will -- is the only political philosophy available in the West that holds any promise of competing with the evil coherence of Islamic jihad. It is helpful that it is a wonderful thing to fight for.

To repeat myself to the point of tedium: We, meaning Americans and other Westerners, cannot defeat al Qaeda on our own. We need the help of the Arab and Muslim world. Without them, we will never be able to separate the enemies from the neutrals. So the question is, what will motivate Muslims to turn in the jihadis in the back of the mosque? Well, we know they won't do it out of gratitude to the United States, and they rarely will do it because a monarch or an autocrat threatens them or gives them money. The risks are simply too great. They may do it, though, if those jihadis threaten an idea that they hold dear. Moderate Islam has failed to supply that idea. Communism is dead. The only alternative is the guiding light of the Enlightenment, the idea of the social contract. However much Muslims may resent the United States, they will fight the jihad to defend that idea. That's the hypothesis, anyway.

The "democratization" of the Muslim world, therefore, is critical to the destruction of the jihadi ideology for more than one reason. Least important is the reason most often given by the Bush administration and its supporters -- that it will "drain the swamp" of Muslim rage that festers under the heel of Muslim authoritarian and monarchical regimes. As Gause and Pape and Andy McCarthy and Pat Buchanan argue, democratization may not shrink the number of radicals. But if enough Muslims conclude that popular sovereignty is a more attractive ideology than radical Islam, the number of Arab and Muslim enemies of al Qaeda and Hezbollah will increase many times. Even if young democracies in the region elect governments that are less pliable from an American perspective, they may also do a better job of fighting Islamist terrorists, which represent a mortal threat to democratic government.

Democracy, then, will not diminish either radicalism or anti-Americanism (or opposition to Israel) in the Arab Muslim world. But it will create many more active Arab and Muslim enemies of jihad. It already has, particularly in Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of Arabs are now hunting Islamist terrorists every day. In this war, as in any counterinsurgency, the enemy of our enemy is definitely our friend.

14 Comments:

By Blogger pedro, at Sat Jul 15, 12:11:00 PM:

As I see it, the only alternatives to victory through this strategy are (1) submission, or (2) a thermonuclear crusade.
Since neither is acceptable, the current strategy must be continued. If I were in charge, it would be continued a lot more robustly, but I'm inclined to let the current command structure keep doing their thing.
Scoreboard.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 15, 02:12:00 PM:

Nobody ever claimed that three years of building a democracy in one Arab country would solve hundreds of years of fanaticism and ignorance. It's highly disingenuous to say "look people are still blowing themselves up, obviously democracy hasn't worked." Repairing the culture that spawned jihad will take a very long to accomplish and the seeds are only being implanted now.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 15, 02:59:00 PM:

Very well written essay but I think you are coming up short.

First, I think you ignore the big elephant in the room, namely Islam itself. The democratic Muslim “Average Abdul” will still be taught that his religion is superior and that infidels must be conquered. Ok so he hates the Jihadi’s methods, but I guarantee he sympathizes with the Jihadi’s goals. And therein lays the problem: Islam itself.

Secondly, perhaps “Average Abdul” will indeed be turning in the deplorable Jihadis but mainly because the Jihadi is foolishly targeting Muslims. Had the Jihadi stuck to killing Infidels, that is perfectly ok with a whole lot of them.

So your argument has a good thesis, but ultimately will fail. Why? Because we need to destroy not only the Jihadists, but their source of inspiration: Islam itself.

That is why we are doomed to lose this battle in the long run. It may well take 100 years, but unless we confront the root problem, Islam, then we are doomed to our fate.

Your fine essay itself entirely ignores this fact. And if you think Islam can be “reformed” then I say you are a fool.

So please try again. Only this time, think of the solution to the problem from the angle of “How do we reform Islam?” My short answer: You can’t. Reformed Islam would no longer be Islam now would it. So the only way to defeat the Jihadists is to discredit Islam itself.

How many decades do you think it will take before we reach the political will to do that?

I imagine someday we will and it will end very ugly: Mecca and a whole lot of other places will be a glass parking lot. Superheated sand will do that you know.

Dan  

By Blogger Aristides, at Sat Jul 15, 03:48:00 PM:

Good post, Tigerhawk. I think you hit most of the salient points, so I'll just offer a few more beams of support for the thesis:

You say "No, the best and perhaps only argument for democratization is that it will increase the number of active enemies of the jihadis within the Muslim world, whether or not those enemies of the Islamists are themselves supporters of the United States or quite opposed to us."

Here's Eric Hoffer:
"The same Russians who cringe and crawl before Stalin's secret police displayed unsurpassed courage when facing -- singly or in a group -- the invading Nazis. The reason for this contrasting behavior is not that Stalin's police are more ruthless than Hitler's armies, but that when facing Stalin's police the Russian feels a mere individual while, when facing the Germans, he saw himself a member fo a mighty race, possessed of a glorious past and even more glorious future."

A totalitarian society must make its subjects feel alone when facing the regime. This isolation, however, is untenable, because frustrated humans are attracted to mass movements, and there are always several vying for attention. So a regime must either control every aspect of life (North Korea), or it must prune potential mass movements to ultimately face outwards.

Back to Hoffer:
"A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence. It cures the poignantly frustrated not by conferring on them an absolute truth or by remedying the difficulties and abuses which made their lives miserable, but by freeing them from their ineffectual selves -- and it does htis by enfolding and absorbing them into a closely knit and exultant corporate whole."

Radical Islam, as a solvent of atomized individuals, is powerful stuff. It's doctrine has succinctly labeled the source of frustration and clearly stated the solution: the infidels have a sickness and are trying to spread it here; these secular dictatorships are but the first symptoms; defeat the West, as Allah predicted, and Islam will finally recover its lost glory by reigning over the entire world.

The question is not how to defeat the ideology. "The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning but from its certitude." The question is how to decrease the number of the frustrated while casting doubt on the ideology's certitude.

Radical Islam is so effective at absorbing the frustrated because it is, literally, everywhere and always open. It's explanatory thesis of the world is easily believed, historically-derived and persuasively supported. A lonely man walks in and asks, "What's it all about?" The imam is there with a ready answer, and assimilation begins at once. Brotherhood is supplied and gratefully taken, and the man loses himself euphorically in the rhythms of the movement.

That is a hard beast to kill, perhaps the worst we've ever seen.

The answer, it seems to me, is to make problems local, and make local solutions secular. To do this, we must re-introduce the feeling of movement in these societies, and the feeling of empowerment. Boredom, frustration, and listlessness are our enemies. Activity, progress, and community are our friends. As Hoffer says, our policy "should be to encourage communal cohesion among the natives...An effective division is one that fosters a multiplicity of compact bodies -- racial, religious, or economic -- vying with and suspicious of each other." That's how you address the first part of the puzzle.

The second part, the certitude of the doctrine itself, is harder to address, especially since it comes from a plausible interpretation of an ancient religion. However, having it compete with other ideas in the mundane arena of everyday administration is sure to diminish its mystical certitude. Reuel Gerecht argues this. He thinks democracy is the proper long game because once in power these regimes will be held to much different, and much more immediate, standards -- like whether they keep the lights on and improve the standard of living. So long as the system of competition remains, Islamists in power will be called out on their mistakes, and the people will listen. The Koran has no instructions on how to manage a national economy, for instance, and the additional input required in light of the Koran's inadequacies in these matters will tend to push the Koran, over time, within its appropriate and natural boundaries. At least, that's the theory.

The alternative to this pleasant evolution is that these Islamist regimes, once in power, will go to war. The answer to that, of course, is that a popularly elected government waging war allows us to play to our strengths. If an elected Islamist government does something stupid, we simply pulverize it, send in the blue helmets to rebuild, all while asking the population, "Now, what did you learn?"

Sometimes the best way to erode the certitude of an ideology is to give it power and see what happens (and thankfully, we are strong enough to do this). Because an ideology needs people to survive, allowing its falsification to take place on a large stage is death for a movement. And as long as a competing paradigm is waiting in the wings in the event of failure, the process of memetic and societal evolution will proceed apace.

I know this is getting long, but I thought it worth mentioning that Bernard Lewis champions this view when he speaks of the disconnect between the attitude of a people and the posture of a regime, and how that can lead to frustration. Henry Kissinger also has tentatively embraced the idea of democracy human rights promotion, in the context of international legitimacy (where we can deal with governments as unitary value with predictable and verifiable domestic restraints) and stability, so long as we don't lose sight of the bigger game of geopolitical balance of power.

Everything seems to be on the side of democracy promotion as a strategic imperative: psychology, morality, realism -- even system theory and evolutionary game theory argue for it. The question flows from its execution. And that is what we will be arguing over for quite a while.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Sat Jul 15, 05:31:00 PM:

I think Aristides touches on an important point. Democracy forces a populace to take responsibility for its choices and thus gives it the chance to learn from its mistakes. In a very clumsy way Osama bin Laden made this very argument in trying to justify the 9/11 attacks by saying, in effect, the American people had it coming because of the government they'd put in place.

Well now, if we are to take that line then what are we to make of a democratically-elected government headed by an unreformed terrorist organization like Hamas? Shouldn't the Palestinian people also be held to account?

I don't mean to suggest any equivalence between the U.S. and Palestian governments. But isn't it instructive to turn bin Laden's argument on its head?

Some will argue that it isn't fair. They will say the Palestinians played by the rules and elected their government, and are now being punished for doing precisely what we asked.

But punishment in this case simply means declining to fund a terrorist organization that refuses to reform.

If the Palestinian people are unhappy about that, then perhaps that serves a lesson. Maybe next election they'll choose more carefully.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 15, 05:39:00 PM:

"To repeat myself to the point of tedium: We, meaning Americans and other Westerners, cannot defeat al Qaeda on our own. We need the help of the Arab and Muslim world. Without them, we will never be able to separate the enemies from the neutrals."

Why is it incumbant on us to seperate the neutrals in this conflict? We did not do so in battling the Nazis in Germany and the Imperialists in Japan in WWII. Instead, we declared war, we demanded unconditional surrender, and then we used overwhelming force to inflict mass death and destruction on both the military AND the civilian populations until they gave in and surrendered. And that is exactly what we should do to the primary sponser of Islamic terror today: Iran.

Destroy Iran and you cut the heart out of the Islamic jihad movement.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 15, 07:34:00 PM:

Superb effort on your part, as usual.

I noticed that while the name of John Podhoretz was mentioned in the introductory paragraph to your fine analysis, Mr. Podhoretz was never quoted afterward.

Andy McCarthy, Cliff May, and even Mike Ledeen received 'Net space. Not Mr. Podhoretz. And not that Mr. Podhoretz's analytical absence is at all surprising.

Just prepare for emails, telephone calls, and other methods of, um, communication from Norm and Midge.

The John P. Normanson Swing Trio just keeps right on banging those drums.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sat Jul 15, 08:23:00 PM:

Everything seems to be on the side of democracy promotion as a strategic imperative

Its also the only internally publicly acceptable choice if one wants the democrats in this country to even give the approach passing lip service. They'd obviously be more comfortable dealing with same tedious tyrants that have graced the arab world for centuries, but have painted themselves in a corner by whining about the US support of tyrants in the past.

So now the left is stuck.  

By Blogger Papa Ray, at Sat Jul 15, 09:01:00 PM:

It was said here: First, I think you ignore the big elephant in the room, namely Islam itself.

This is the problem, this is the cancer that has eaten away the Muslims and others sanity. It has taken it's toll on Muslims and the world for hundreds of years, and it is as dangerous to them, if not more so, than it is to the rest of us.

Islam is the enemy, and it is not going away by any other means than by force.

Can you kill an evil, malicious, cult? Yes, you can, but it will cost more than any other endeavor in the history of mankind.

Until then, any efforts at peace and bringing the Muslims to the point of not favoring violence and subversion, over individual and collective freedom, and prosperity will be short lived and destroyed sooner or later.

Are the Muslims that deplore violence willing to assist in the destruction of Islam? Are we too advanced and civilized to destroy Islam?

If they are not, they will die along with the "True Believers", if we are, we will either die or be slaves under Islamic rule.

How many years will it take us to make up our minds?

How many thousands of deaths, before we understand that Islam is the enemy.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA  

By Anonymous MTF, at Sat Jul 15, 09:52:00 PM:

Interestingly, the arab population doesn't seem at all united in condemning Israel, or at least in supporting Hizbollah. If "democratization" can be said to have had an effect in Lebanon, for example, it surely can be seen--in its early stages at least-- as divergence of opinion. And, you do see that! Check out Vox blog, for example.

Years from now, perhaps, we'll think this "democracy thing", quoting our prescient president, was key in actually solving the mid-east problem.  

By Blogger a psychiatrist who learned from veterans, at Sun Jul 16, 03:54:00 PM:

Speaking of elephants, recall President Eisenhower's statement that we didn't support a general election in VN two years after the the Geneva accords because 'they would only vote once.' As an upper crust Republican, Mr. Bush is at pains centrally to avoid that mistake 'in defense of liberty.' With the Saudi's condemning Hezbollah and offering money, and our recent experience, might a little Saudi extraterritorial 'supervision' be accepted though?  

By Blogger geoffgo, at Fri Aug 04, 11:48:00 AM:

Dan,

Agreed. So, what's the process of elimination entail?

Short of nuking someplaces, killing millions, because they really pissed us off this time, we must have a force to discredit the teachers, starting soon.

How about a "moderate" Muslim Council, seated to help us target and eliminate the relevant imams?

Publish the target list everywhere. Notify the congregations that their mosque (and every other meeting place) is at risk for housing this particular imam. Incite shunning of radical imams worldwide.

Perhaps the list would be as short as 50,000? How many missiles will we need to expend, to change the tunes of the majority of Imams?

After 20K-30K terminations, they'd probably call a conference to modify the basic tenents of Islam. It will be amazing how fast the scholars will come up with altogether different interpratations of the hadiths. Name the enemy! War on Radical Islam.

Fastest, cheapest, most humane route to Koran 2.0, while saving millions of lives. Let's start the reformation now!

If this doesn't work, we can always resort to other, more destructive means. This is the best message/offer Islam will ever get.  

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